Wednesday, September 03, 2014
Text Size

First Nations rights may thwart Site C

By Keith Baldrey

Global News

The issues that swirl around B.C.’s biggest-ever megaproject aren’t going away: jobs and a secure, “clean” energy supply versus environmental damage and ignoring some First Nations rights.

Those were among the issues at play when the first huge hydroelectric dams were built on the Peace River in the 1960s, and they remain attached to the latest dam – Site C – envisioned for the same waterway today.

The recent, mammoth (450-plus pages) report by a joint review panel flagged all those same issues, but didn’t side one way or another on whether the dam should be built. There is a lot of onthe-one-hand-but-on-theother-hand reasoning in the report, which can be used by either side in the debate to bolster its arguments.

But there is one big, important difference between the debate or legalities of today compared to the 1960s: the First Nations now have very real, court-upheld constitutional rights that weren’t a factor in the construction of the first dams, but which could ultimately block Site C’s construction today.

And the panel devoted more than 30 pages in its report addressing First Nations issues, an indication of the importance it attaches to how those interests must be weighed in the eventual decision for the project.

The dam would have “significant adverse effect” on local First Nations’ “traditional use” of the land, including hunting and trapping, the panel found.

We’re not talking here about the court-mandated requirement to “consult and accommodate” First Nations that impact so many land use decisions. These rights run far deeper, and are entrenched in section 35 of the Constitution.

Further, the valley to be flooded by Site C encompasses Treaty 8 territory, which affects 21 different First Nations bands. Treaty 8 specifically gives those First Nations

the right to “pursue their usual vocations of hunting, trapping and fishing throughout the tract” of land in question.

So, unless the panel’s analysis and conclusions on this one issue are completely off the mark, the Site C dam seems to be facing one heck of a steep mountain to get over before construction could begin.

As is so often the case, much of the controversy over Site C has focused on other issues over the years. For example, there are those who bemoan the potential loss of valuable agriculture land if Site C was built.

The dam would indeed flood about 3,800 hectares of potential agricultural land, but the panel found that would have an “insignificant” impact on crop production because the land isn’t terribly suited to high-end crop production. In fact, the annual loss in terms of crop

production would amount to a measly $220,000.

Opponents of Site C have also seized on the argument that it would greatly harm all kinds of wildlife and disrupt or destroy various migratory patterns. Not so, found the panel, at least when it came to moose, elk, deer or bears, the dominant species in the region (however, some bird, bat and fish habitats would indeed be adversely affected).

The panel expressed doubts about various arguments put forth by B.C. Hydro in advocating for the dam, on everything from cost estimates to the timeline for future energy needs.

In fact, in its closing summary, the panel specifically concluded that B.C. Hydro had not made the case that Site C was needed in the near future.

But the panel also acknowledged that B.C.’s energy needs will increase

over time and therefore more power generation will be needed. The question is not whether a new power facility (Site C or some other one) should be built, but when.

This conclusion alone is likely enough to convince the B.C. Liberal government to give the project the green light when it ultimately makes its final decision this fall.

But as with so many major land use decisions, the government may find that ultimately First Nations’ rights can thwart all kinds of political desires.

Legendary Premier W.A.C. Bennett was able to dismiss all kinds of protests when he ordered those other dams to be built, and a government can continue to successfully ignore environmental and agricultural objections when it comes to things like dams.

But ignoring First Nations rights? That’s a very different proposition, and even Wacky Bennett wouldn’t get away with that today.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

Whatever Trevor

Dis is Trevor.

Blast from the past: FP archive

When is Consultation, Consultation?

Ovide Mercredi

National Chief – AFN

During a Treaty Roundtable meeting of the Alberta Chiefs, I took note of a federal government document outlining their strategy to define and ultimately impose their own form of self-government. Read more...

Letting go of residential schools

by Gilbert Oskaboose, Nov 1993 First Perspective

There is a lot of "unfinished business" in Indian Country. Garbage that we as a people have never really dealt with. Chief among them is the whole issue of those infamous residential schools and their impact on people. Read more...

OBIDIAH

obidiah picture

ANALYSIS - Bill Gallagher

gallagher picture

Under the Northern Sky by Xavier Kataquapit

Under the Northern Sky by Xavier Kataquapit

JOBS

First Nations Cultural Interpreter PM – 02 Riding Mountain National Park Seasonal Indeterminate

(May to October) From $54,543 to $58,764

Closing Sept. 19, 2014

Read More

Regional Media Officer– Temp (Until Nov 2015) –F/T Position

Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition / NDP Research Office

Location:131 Queen Street, Suite 10-02, Ottawa, ON

Responsibilities

Communicate regularly with regional media outlets (community newspapers, radio stations, student media, ethnic media, etc.) to propose ideas for interviews and opinion content Read more...

Canadian Chamber of Commerce Aboriginal Workforce Report

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce released a report that highlights initiatives to improve the workforce participation of Aboriginal peoples. 

Opportunity Found: Improving the Participation of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada’s Workforce (December 2013)  

click image to download report

Tue Sep 23 @ 3:00PM - 04:15PM
FNHMA National Conference 2014

EVENTS

September 2014
S M T W T F S
31 1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 1 2 3 4
imageimageimageimageimage
cartoonscartoonscartoonscartoonscartoons

Current Video

RIP Percy Tuesday

 

Thanks to Althea Guiboche for allowing The First Perspective to share her video taken at the Manitowapow book launch at McNally Robinson. 

Percey sings Freddy Fender's "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" and people join in to harmonize. 

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO): The Washington Redskins